By Erika Elliott
“Well you also have the option to encapsulate your placenta and ingest it.”…….. blank stares, open mouths, nervous giggles, or simply no registration at all. This is the normal response I see when talking about the third stage of labour in my calmbirth® classes. I have been encapsulating women’s placentas for over two years now and what once seemed to me like sacred “ooga booga” has now reached the brink of mainstream and almost all of the families I support as a doula, and a high percentage of my calmbirth® clients seek my services for this beneficial service.
In Australia, midwives, doulas, herbalists, naturopaths and mothers are becoming curious to learn or discover more about this unique organ that just keeps on giving. I realize how much effort, preparation and time that goes into the readiness for a new baby. We renovate our homes, (what’s with that anyway?), book into classes, organize prenatal visits, host blessingway ceremonies or baby showers and patiently wait for labour and birth.
After our baby has arrived, we often forget to nurture the nurturer and get caught up with ‘keeping up’ and sometimes don’t realize how much of an adjustment having a new baby in our lives really is. Unfortunately, something we don’t usually talk about is the high level, up to 80%, of mums who develop the “Baby Blues”, making everyday tasks a challenge and caring for an infant exhausting.
After birth, our bodies loose so many nutrients, our hormones go up and down like a yo-yo, we are trying to establish a breastfeeding rhythm and with our babies and learning to read their cues and signals, all while attempting to catch a few hours sleep at a time. If we already have children, then the relationship with our new baby slots in with caring for them as well! Researching and understanding what the placenta can do for you post-birth can really impact the BabyMoon you experience. By choosing a placenta service, you can absorb and enjoy heightened energy, a full milk supply, less bleeding and post partum pain, a constant flow of the ‘love hormone’ and more. After all, you put in months of hard, baby creating. Now it’s time to replenish your temple.
Most of the time, after we birth, we squeamishly or curiously look at our placentas while our midwives or obstetricians examine them, before they get discarded as waste. Some families take their placenta home and put it in the freezer…..where it still may be, years later! Or they plant it under a tree and that has been the norm in our mainstream birthing culture. But now, evidence and ancient tradition suggests that there is so much more to the placenta than its role of filtering, feeding and accompanying the baby in the womb. If honoured and prepared in the right way, this amazing organ just keeps on giving.
To all ancient peoples, either the placenta or the umbilical cord represented the mysteries of creation and was honoured in sacred ritual the world over. Aboriginal people felt that the cord was to be buried at the place of quickening, the moment when mother first felt her baby’s movements, a place of power for the child’s entire life. Ancient Hawaiians would paddle close to three hundred miles from Kauai to the big island of Hawaii to place their baby’s cord in the lava at the base of the great volcano, asking for their baby’s long life. In New Zealand, Maori people of each clan have a certain tree under which all placentas are buried. Those ancient trees continue to grow with great mana, or life force.
In some cultures, the placenta is called “little brother/little sister” and acts as a comforting womb buddy to the baby. The dried umbilical cord was saved to remind the baby of the unbroken connection to Father Sky and Mother Earth, symbolic of Oneness with all things, and was often placed in a handmade turtle pouch or rattle. Before the 1300’s, the dried placenta of the King of France preceded him on a cushion and was honoured in this way at every procession or parade. The word placenta comes from the Greek root, meaning cake. Might we be honouring our own placenta every year with our tradition of having a birthday cake?
Two sides of a Miracle
The placenta is essential to a healthy pregnancy. It functions for the baby and the mother from 5-6 weeks of gestation, until it is expelled naturally after birth. Many birth professionals believe that when leaving baby and placenta attached via the umbilical cord, the placenta is able to assist the baby even outside the womb. The maternal side of the placenta gathers and guards. It gathers from the Mother’s blood stream just what the baby needs in the moment. The intelligence of the placenta sifts through all nutrients, choosing specific amounts of each vitamin or substance needed and draws it into baby’s bloodstream.
As the guardian, the placenta regulates a barrier to keep a lower percentage of some vitamins and minerals in the baby’s blood than is in the Mother’s blood and prevents the Mother’s blood coming into contact with the baby’s blood. This action is not just a mechanical process. It is an intelligence that chooses wisely for the good of the baby. The placenta’s marvellous abilities have always awed medical science, even without knowing its energetic aspects. The foetal side of the placenta is called the Tree of Life, with the beautiful silvery tree trunk of the umbilical cord and its lovely intricate branches or root system of veins and arteries. This is the side the baby sees during pregnancy and is also the side that the umbilical cord inserts to.
The placenta helps sustain functions that the baby is not yet mature enough to do on its own as it grows and develops within the womb and it passes on the Mother’s antibodies to help keep baby healthy for several months after birth. The placenta is formed from the same sperm and egg cells that form the baby and at the earliest moments past conception, even before it takes its known roles of oxygenating, nourishing and purifying, the placenta energetically holds the space for the baby to become what its soul intends.
During womb life, the placenta mediates between mother and baby. All information is passed between mother and baby by way of hormones, pressure and blood through the placenta and umbilical cord. It is very common in Western culture that birth is a rushed, chaotic and often times traumatic experience for mothers, babies and placentas. Although families are starting to regain control of the way they give birth and the process of bringing a life earth side, early cord clamping and cutting is still extremely common. More and more studies are showing that delayed cord clamping (or no clamping at all) and cutting of the cord has many benefits for a newborn and continues to offer positive outcome throughout the child’s life. The three main benefits of delayed cord clamping and cutting are:
- Lower incidence of jaundice in newborn babies
- Higher iron levels in the newborn
- Less chance of anaemia and clotting issues as the child ages
It is recommended to wait at least 3 minutes before clamping a newborns umbilical cord, but I have witnessed cords still pulsing for much longer than that. Holding the cord until you can feel no pulsing is one of the best ways to know when to clamp. Waiting for up to three hours has the most effective results for the newborn. The placenta is still functioning for the newborn and even passes on cancer fighting T-Cells through the umbilical cord into the newborn post birth. Allowing time for the nutrient and stem-cell rich blood to enter the newborns body ensures that the newborn will have the best possible start to a healthy life. This three hour wait will also allow you to have a semi-lotus birth and be able to witness your baby and it’s “little brother/l